A 17th Century Ottoman Text: Shah u Dervish

Shah u Dervish (King and Beggar) is a masnavi written by the seventeenth century Ottoman poet, Gufti. (the "Wordsmith") Gufti, renowned for his biographical work on Ottoman poets titled "Tashrifatu�sh-Shuara," was born in Edirne and spent most of his life in Rumelia, where he served as a qadi (Islamic judge). He completed his masnavi in 1650, 27 years before his death in Edirne.

The M.A. thesis that I completed in 2006 had presented the critical edition of Gufti�s Shah u Dervish (King and Beggar) along with an index, and had analyzed it from a text-based standpoint. The masnavi was analyzed in terms of form, content, style and structure. It was also studied with regard to the main elements of narrative: Time, setting, narrator, characters, motifs and metaphors were studied and critically evaluated.

Although I had then done a meticulous literary analysis by doing a huge "paper-work" on the manuscript, I had also added the following remark at the end of the thesis abstract: " By especially taking the basic findings of the narrative analysis of the masnavi into consideration, as a general remark, it can be stated that although Shah u Dervish does not exhibit some �interesting phenomena,� it provides valuable information on the use of narrative elements in Ottoman masnavis. Therefore, Shah u Dervish, as a literary text, can shed a light on the nature of narrative in the Ottoman literary tradition."

It was evident to me that I had a limited perspective mainly because of the lack of control over all this huge paper work! Now that every piece of paper-work has already transformed into "bits of technology," I am quite sure that I have an advanced (i.e., technologically supported) control over every corner of this Ottoman masnavi. By simply relying on the paper-work, it was then impossible for me to release, for instance, a list of keywords that are crucial to understanding the nature of this text. For instance, in the "age of paper-works", the frequency of the following items did not tell me anything about the text on which I was working on:

Words Counts
ol 85
oldı 72
ki 70
ola 64
bu 58
bir 52
ile 47
eyledi 45
dil-i 36
ʿışḳ 30
dervȋş-i 17
ʿışḳdur 16
dervȋş 14
ʿāşıḳ-ı 12

Table 1: The frequency of the ciritical words according to TAPOR, the Text Analysis Portal for Research

A Statistical Data: How to use it?

The list items that appear above are of vital importance for the critical study of the Ottoman masnavis that are based upon the phenomenon of "love." This list indicates two important aspects: The central words that have been chosen to narrate the love story occur in high frequency. The word "dil" (heart) , for instance, is one of those central words/concepts that have a critical role in the analysis of a love story like Shah u Darvish. The second aspect has much to do with the syntactical and lexical features of the text under inspection. That the poet uses the verbs "olmak" (to be/become) and "eylemek" (to make/cause/do) is a good indicator that these two verbs are insistently used for the predicative function. Continuing with the laguage-based analysis of the list, it is not hard to observe that the list comprises Arabic, Persian and Turkish word items. The Turkish word items are mostly reserved for predication. The Persian ones (such as "ki" -that-) fulfill the conjunctional function. Finally, the Arabic ones appear as the primary lexical items that make connections with the other constituents of the syntax.

A very simple, and needless to say, very limited, list as the one above, is not intriguing only in terms of its capacity to present the word items of particular significance. More importantly, the same list presents a researcher with a concrete data upon which he can rely. Thus the list, I think, may embellish the scholarly mind with its clues as to the further steps of content-based analysis and linguisticly-oriented research. It is this potential capacity of the digitalized information that I find incomparable to the imprecise findings obtained from a paper-work.

As a new born to the world of electronic texts, I gave heed to the oft-repeated maxim that "the new age" of electronic texts is indispensable. This was the main idea of the books that I have read in th course of this project. Before going on to the evaluation of the second list, let me list here some intriguing remarks that interested me particularly:

"... the computer is best at finding features or patterns within a literary work and counting occurences of those features. If the features which interest a scholar can be identified by computer programs, the computer will provide an overall picture which would be impossible to derive accurately by manual methods.It can also pinpoint specific features within a text or collection of texts and lead the researcher to further areas of enquiry." Susan Hockey, Electronic Texts in the Humanities: Principles and Practices (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 66.

"What is an electronic text? (...) there are two essential characteristics. First, the text must be stored in an electronic format, for manipulation by appropriate software. (...) Second, an electronic text must be a version of a text or document that previously existed in print or in manuscript form." Toby Burrows, The Text in the Machine : Electronic Texts in the Humanities (New York: Haworth Press, 1999), p. x.

The following "fundamental questions" are the ones that have occupied my mind since my initiation into the world of electronic texts: Who will read the text, why, and how? As is clear, all of them focus upon the intended readership (or users) of the electronic text. The following quotation seems to be a reliable ground before embarking on a sample analysis:

"If your main reason for creating an electronic text is to provide the raw data for computer-assisted analysis � perhaps as part of an authorship attribution study � then completeness and accuracy of the data will probably be far more important than capturing the visual appearance of the source text." Alan Morrison, Michael Popham and Karen Wikander, Creating and Documenting Electronic Texts (Oxford: Oxbow Books for the Arts and Humanities Data Service, 2000).

The other aspect of electronic text production concerns itself with the use of electronic tools especially in literary studies. If one is to lend an ear to the words of the experienced scholars of the field, the importance of those automatized methods becomes salient:

"Experience of working with electronic literary texts has highlighted a number of analysis tools and features that have been found to be useful. The most obvious is the need to index every words and not to have a stop list. This is important for many stylistic and linguistic studies that have concentrated on the usage of common words." Brett Sutton, Literary Texts in an Electronic Age: Scholarly Implications and Library Services (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994), p. 31.

Having internalized the encouraging ideas of the scholars, I feel secure to continue with the following two lists that display the frequency of the usage of the common words and word phrases, respectively:

Frequency and top words :


Table 2: The frequency of top words according to Textalyser, the online text analysis tool

Word phrases frequency :

ExpressionExpression count FrequencyProminence
-i 1811.6%47.6
-i dil110.1%43.9

Table 3: The frequency of word phrases according to Textalyser, the online text analysis tool

Based on the findings that have been obtained through the online text analysis tool Textalyser, we can safely state that the very same words appear in frequency. Although the frequency rates show minor variations, they are compatible with the ones provided by TAPOR. But the point that needs to be stressed here is that Textalyser provides us with an additional list of word phrases that appear again in high frequency. It is invaluable to see that the izafet particle "-i", according to Textalyser, occurs 181 times in isolation. This is an important indication of the frequent usage of the izafet constructions throughout the text. Furthermore, that the same izafet particle remarkably occurs in combination with one of those significant words ("dil") is yet another finding that can be employed in the content analysis of this seventeenth-century Ottoman text.

All in all, it can be stated that the online text analysis tool Textalyser proves to be useful especially in determining the frequency of the word phrases. It can dissect the words (those that are suffixed by izafet constructions, for instance) into its meaningful and functional parts and thus can give a reliable picture regarding the critical relationship between a word and its izafet complements. TAPOR, on the other hand, is much more useful in determining the frequency of the occurence of those significant/central words that are ciritical to the understanding of the whole text. At least in my case, since it has indexed the precise occurrences of the vocabulary items that have been imbued with certain connotations, in my opinion, this tool is much more appropriate for indexing the words of certain significance.